Heaven is a Place on Earth (Isaiah 65)

I’m always fascinated by so-called “designer funerals.”  You know the ones—where the deceased has left some elaborate last wishes for their funeral.  Columnist Gina Gallo writes of this absurdity, describing a “gaming theme” funeral:

“For a nominal deposit and low monthly payments, a ‘gaming theme’ funeral offers authentic slot machines discreetly positioned around the neon-lit casket, gambling chips the size of manhole covers, and a jumbo deck of cards in lieu of a flower spray covering the deceased. Instead of folding chairs, jumbo dice scattered about the viewing parlor will serve as ottomans, cocktail tables or the perfect surface for a memorial craps game.”

We don’t know what to do with death, so we try to domesticate it as if it were a wild dog.  But death refuses to be reasoned or bartered with.  Since the day we left Paradise, we breathe out, and death is no more.


It’s why we have to keep coming back to the concept of shalom—the Hebrew word meaning “wholeness,” “completeness”—the way things were meant to be all along.  Man was made to experience shalom in three dimensions: spiritually (between man and God), socially (between man and neighbor), and environmentally (between man and creation).  Sin ripped all of these apart.  The gospel is about putting shalom back together again.  The cross removes my sin, allowing me to be spiritually restored to God (spiritual shalom).  And because it happens by grace, it removes the sense of superiority and inferiority that prevents me from fully loving my neighbor—thus restoring social shalom.

But that leaves one final piece for God to fix.  That’s why I cringe when I hear people speak of being “complete in Christ”—because I’m not.  I get sick.  I will one day die.  Death is all around me, whether in a designer funeral or the evening news.  In the words of the rock band U2, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” I truly believe that one of the reasons so many are quick to dismiss Christianity is because we expect happiness to be immediate—and lasting.  The gospel says no; we have to wait for the end of the story.  We need to see the restoration of environmental shalom.

That’s what Isaiah’s text is all about.  The latter portion of his prophetic masterpiece details God’s future plans for restoring shalom in all areas of life.

17 For look, I am ready to create new heavens and a new earth! The former ones will not be remembered; no one will think about them anymore.  18 But be happy and rejoice forevermore over what I am about to create! For look, I am ready to create Jerusalem to be a source of joy, and her people to be a source of happiness.  19 Jerusalem will bring me joy, and my people will bring me happiness. The sound of weeping or cries of sorrow will never be heard in her again.  20 Never again will one of her infants live just a few days or an old man die before his time. Indeed, no one will die before the age of a hundred, anyone who fails to reach the age of a hundred will be considered cursed.  21 They will build houses and live in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  22 No longer will they build a house only to have another live in it, or plant a vineyard only to have another eat its fruit, for my people will live as long as trees, and my chosen ones will enjoy to the fullest what they have produced.  23 They will not work in vain, or give birth to children that will experience disaster. For the LORD will bless their children and their descendants.  24 Before they even call out, I will respond; while they are still speaking, I will hear.  25 A wolf and a lamb will graze together; a lion, like an ox, will eat straw, and a snake’s food will be dirt. They will no longer injure or destroy on my entire royal mountain,” says the LORD.  (Isaiah 65:17-25)

I believe in heaven; I just don’t believe this is our destiny.  We were created for earth, you and I.  That’s partly what separates the Christian story from every other religious tradition.  Other religions promise some form of “escape” from earth—whether a literal heaven or some ethereal state like Moksha or Nirvana.  Christianity is the only faith that says that God will restore the earth.

1,000 YEARS

This means there are some features to this text that might seem confusing.  If this is God’s perfect world, why does he speak of death at all (v. 20)?  We won’t live to 100—we’ll live forever, right?  I tend to think that God—through Isaiah—is hinting at the larger story that we don’t see unfold until John’s book of Revelation.  There—in Revelation 19:1-6—we see a promise that God will reign on earth for 1,000 years before He finally completes the work of restoration.  Granted, there are many ways of understanding this complex subject, but I tend to believe the most literal reading of scripture tells us that on an undisclosed day, the church will be taken away (“raptured,” to use today’s terms).  Following a seven-year period of judgment (the “tribulation”), Christ will return to rule and reign for 1,000 years.  During this time, Satan will be bound.  Yet I tend to believe that death and sin will still persist.  Why?  Because man is depraved, and for the first time we’ll see what life is like when we can no longer say “the devil made me do it.”

It’s only after this that we see God restoring all things to goodness and perfection:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more.  2 And I saw the holy city– the new Jerusalem– descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband.  3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them.  4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more– or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

I don’t know what happens to our memories—the Bible’s less than clear.  Will we remember the past at all?  Or will the future glory simply overshadow it?  And on that day—will it matter?


Artistically, we’ve come to shun the “happy ending.”  Artistic expression demands that in film, movies show a gritty world where things don’t always work out in the trite way of fairy tales.  There’s just one problem: this isn’t what the public seems to want.  Recent data reveals that in 2013, nearly half of Americans hadn’t seen any of the films nominated for Academy Awards.  Apparently people are eschewing films such as The Wolf of Wall Street and The Dallas Buyers’ Club, favoring films like Disney’s Frozen or Iron Man 3—movies that chronicle sacrifice, and happy endings.  Could it be that we are all uniquely wired to believe in happy endings?

In a famous essay entitled “On Fairy Stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien coined the term eucatastrophe—literally “good catastrophe”—what Tolkien calls “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears.”  The gospel represents the ultimate “eucatastrophe.”  It promises that death does not have the last word—and that shalom might finally be restored.

The Story of the Lamb (Isaiah 53)

I can remember an old Peanuts cartoon, where Charlie and Linus pass by a sign that reads “Jesus is the answer!”  In the next panel, Linus turns to Charlie and asks, “What was the question?”

The question changes everything.  The way we define the problem shapes the way we view the Solution.  In today’s world, it’s easy to forget just how much of a problem “sin” truly is—both inside and outside the church.

If you don’t have a background in church, then “sin” must sound like a throwback to an archaic, “Leave-it-to-Beaver” style America where we frowned at anything fun and women were burned as witches for learning math.  But in the fourth century, a man named Saint Augustine wrote that sin is a form of “dis-ordered” love.  Think of your heart as a pyramid.   You will never flourish, Augustine would say, until God rests at its apex.  All other loves are meant to occupy the lesser spaces below.  And we know this, even implicitly.  If I love possessions more than people, my soul withers under greed’s dark shadow.  If I become preoccupied with sex, I become a prisoner of lust.  Even the self-esteem movement has recently conceded that high self-esteem can often lead to self-absorption.  Nothing is more caustic than our devotion to self.

But if I come from within the church, then I tend to minimize sin as merely “doing bad things.”  I can learn to “manage” sin through a codified system of behavior and morals.  And that’ll never work, the Bible says, because nothing can erase the damage that’s already been done.

All of that serves as backdrop to the story of the Lamb.


One of the keys to understanding Isaiah is to recognize the “suffering servant” passages that appear in the latter half of his text.  These texts point to an idealized servant of God whose suffering is part of God’s larger redemptive framework of creation, fall, and redemption.

In the larger picture of the Bible, we can easily see the way that Jesus is the true and better servant.  All of these texts point to His atoning work on the cross.  In his excellent work The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, Leon Morris observes that over time, Israel came to see all shed blood as atoning for sin—meaning every sacrificial lamb, goat, etc. were viewed as having the same purifying quality.  So when we later hear John the Baptist refer to Jesus as “the Lamb of God who lifts away the sin of humanity” (John 1:29, 36), he’s saying that Jesus fulfills this sacrificial system once and for all.

But we get ahead of ourselves.  Let’s take a look at what Isaiah had to say about this servant:

Isaiah 53:1-12  Who would have believed what we just heard? When was the LORD’s power revealed  him?  2 He sprouted up like a twig before God, like a root out of parched soil; he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention, no special appearance that we should want to follow him.  3 He was despised and rejected by people, one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness; people hid their faces from him; he was despised, and we considered him insignificant.

Growing up I’d always wondered why Jesus’ earliest followers were so quick to cast aside their lucrative fishing careers to follow a guy they’d never met.  One ancient writer thought that “there must have been some divine quality in the face of the Savior.”  And I hate that, because it just smacks of bad Sunday School art that depicts Jesus as a white guy with feathered hair who looks suspiciously like Kenny Loggins.  But if Isaiah is right, that “he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention,” then it means that Jesus was never one of the “popular” crowd.  Instead, I tend to think the early disciples were drawn to a message of hope and forgiveness—something they’d never find on the inside of their tacklebox.

4 But he lifted up our illnesses, he carried our pain; even though we thought he was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done.  5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed. 6 All of us had wandered off like sheep; each of us had strayed off on his own path, but the LORD caused the sin of all of us to attack him.  7 He was treated harshly and afflicted, but he did not even open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block, like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not even open his mouth.  8 He was led away after an unjust trial– but who even cared? Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living; because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded.  9 They intended to bury him with criminals, but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb, because he had committed no violent deeds, nor had he spoken deceitfully.  10 Though the LORD desired to crush him and make him ill, once restitution is made, he will see descendants and enjoy long life, and the LORD’s purpose will be accomplished through him.  11 Having suffered, he will reflect on his work, he will be satisfied when he understands what he has done. “My servant will acquit many, for he carried their sins.  12 So I will assign him a portion with the multitudes, he will divide the spoils of victory with the powerful, because he willingly submitted to death and was numbered with the rebels, when he lifted up the sin of many and intervened on behalf of the rebels.”

We could go on for hours unpacking all this.  But here we have the gospel in its purest form.

First, Isaiah sees sin as a universal form of disobedience.  But in the same breath, Isaiah says that God “caused the sin of us all to attack him.”  Keep in mind, the cross was more than a death sentence.  It was designed to not only inflict pain, but also to bring shame.  Jesus paid for our sin—and he also paid for the consequences of sin—the shame, the blame that began in Paradise long ago.

“Because of his wounds,” Isaiah tells us, “we are healed.”  The “punishment that made us well,” Isaiah calls it.  If you’re reading that in the original Hebrew, you’d instantly notice the word shalom.  The word—as we’ve noted before—refers to God’s peace, joy, and wholeness.  It refers to what Cornelius Plantinga calls “the way it’s supposed to be.”  Jesus puts everything back together again, and repairs what you and I broke.

Do you see why the idea of sin is so necessary?  Let’s go back to Linus and Charlie—the way the question shapes our view of the Answer.  If our greatest problem is social, then when I look to Jesus I expect to see another social revolutionary—another Gandhi.  If our greatest problem is moral, then when I look to Jesus I expect to find a religious teacher.  If our greatest problem is intolerance, then when I look to Jesus I expect to find a spiritual and ethical visionary.  But if our greatest problem is sin, then when I look to Jesus I can’t be satisfied with just another religious figure.  I need forgiveness.  I need a Lamb.

The story of Christianity is a story of how God provided what man could not: a sacrifice that would eradicate the stain of sin once and for all.  For humanity, faith marks the boundary between a life of sin and a life with God.

Free Gift (Isaiah 55)

Has this ever happened to you?  You need something.  You go shopping.  But once you enter the store, you realize you can’t afford anything they sell.

I can remember a few years ago I needed a pair of dress shoes.  So I found myself entering a shoe store at the local outlet mall.  At the door, I was greeted by a pair of grandmotherly-types who welcomed me to the otherwise-empty store, and handed me a piece of butterscotch candy to enjoy while I perused their wares.  But as I did so, I discovered two things: (1) I thought all their shoes were weird (tassels? People like tassels?) and (2) the cheapest pair they sold started at around $75 or so—though most were significantly more.  So there I was.  No intention—or financial means—to make a purchase, trying to avoid eye contact with the pair of salesladies, grinning ear to ear as they watched their sole customer enjoy their butterscotch candy, seemingly unaware that he was fake shopping so as not to appear ungrateful.

It was awkward.

And the truth is, I can’t help but wonder if that’s how a lot of people feel about church.  I mean, there’s no shortage of churches handing out butterscotch candy, is there?  I’ve lived in Dallas—the nightmarish capital of the evangelical world—so I’ve seen some of the absurdity that abounds.  Gyms.  Ferris wheels.  Some churches have even given away things ranging from gasoline to electronics.  At tax season, some churches even offer shredding services, sure to cater to those ranging from savvy professionals to corrupt bureaucrats.

Here’s the problem: you enjoy those services for so long, until you start to realize what the cost really is.  Soon you begin to hear about what God expects from you, and if the gospel is absent what you’re left with is a pile of moralistic demands.  If you’re good, you hear, God will love you. 

If I’m good?  Well, in today’s evangelical culture that means not just abstaining from the big sins like pornography and Disney movies,  but also paying the cost that comes from Christian culture.  Christian radio, Christian films, Christian music, Christian coffeehouses, Christian schools, Christian gyms (yes; those exist)—and once you join a small group (usually with a name like JUICE or VOLT or TRANCE or something) you’d better get working on your Christian lingo, ranging from “quiet time” to “guarding your heart,” after which you pray for something called “traveling mercies” even though you live two blocks away.

And I think that a lot of people come, enjoy the butterscotch, but they end up fake-shopping because they don’t want to shatter the smiles of the people that brought them in the door.  But deep down, it’s hard to really “buy in” to the culture of the church when you feel like there’s nothing in your pocket that allows you to afford it.

Enter the gospel.


Remember that Isaiah is talking about what life would look like if God reigned completely—on earth as it is in heaven, so to speak.  And, as we already noted, this is what life will look like in the new heavens and the new earth.

I love this passage, because what better way to illustrate the free gift of God’s grace:

“Hey, all who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come! Buy and eat! Come! Buy wine and milk without money and without cost!  2 Why pay money for something that will not nourish you? Why spend your hard-earned money on something that will not satisfy? Listen carefully to me and eat what is nourishing! Enjoy fine food!  3 Pay attention and come to me! Listen, so you can live! Then I will make an unconditional covenantal promise to you, just like the reliable covenantal promises I made to David.  4 Look, I made him a witness to nations, a ruler and commander of nations.”  5 Look, you will summon nations you did not previously know; nations that did not previously know you will run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he bestows honor on you. (Isaiah 55:1-5)

Grace.  It’s an incredible gift.  Isaiah didn’t even have the full picture in his day.  When we pause to consider the way Christ’s blood paid the debt of sin, we easily see how the gospel leads to great joy.  I experience God’s blessing not because I could “afford” it, but because it was secured for me through the blood of Jesus.


But, you might object, surely God doesn’t just want us to remain as we are.  Surely he wants us to worship him with pure hearts and not stained garments.  And you’re right.  The problem is, we often think that means working really hard.

Martin Luther, the great sixteenth-century reformer, once compared the Christian life to building a house.  We allow Jesus to lay the foundation; then we wait for Moses to come finish the job.  In other words, people see Jesus as the ticket “in.”  Once we’re “saved,” we rely on God’s Laws to make us better.  But if we are saved by grace alone, how can we be transformed except through grace?

6 Seek the LORD while he makes himself available; call to him while he is nearby!  7 The wicked need to abandon their lifestyle and sinful people their plans. They should return to the LORD, and he will show mercy to them, and to their God, for he will freely forgive them.  8 “Indeed, my plans are not like your plans, and my deeds are not like your deeds,  9 for just as the sky is higher than the earth, so my deeds are superior to your deeds and my plans superior to your plans.  10 The rain and snow fall from the sky and do not return, but instead water the earth and make it produce and yield crops, and provide seed for the planter and food for those who must eat.  11 In the same way, the promise that I make does not return to me, having accomplished nothing. No, it is realized as I desire and is fulfilled as I intend.”  12 Indeed you will go out with joy; you will be led along in peace; the mountains and hills will give a joyful shout before you, and all the trees in the field will clap their hands.  13 Evergreens will grow in place of thorn bushes, firs will grow in place of nettles; they will be a monument to the LORD, a permanent reminder that will remain.

Everything here is described as a joyous song.   Even the trees clap their hands.  Isaiah says that the distance between us and God is the same as the distance between the earth and heaven itself.  And that’s why the gospel is so beautiful.  No one can reach that far.  The gospel says that God comes down to us in the person of Jesus.

So what does this have to do with our sanctification—that is, with the process by which we are made into Christ’s likeness?  Everything.  Because it means that if I labor to obey God out of a need for his acceptance, then I either feel frustrated when I fail, or arrogantly self-righteous when I succeed.  But if I trust in God’s gracious power through His Spirit, then I can experience joy as He brings me ever closer to His side, and ever shapes me into someone who resembles His character.

Beyond the Surrogate (Isaiah 40)

What do you think of when you think of God?  An old man with a long white beard?  A cosmic judge?  An ineffectual grandfather, who winks at sin and pats our heads approvingly?

A number of years ago, a group of psychologists did an experiment to test the parental bonds formed in young monkeys.  The research animals were presented with two “surrogate” mothers.  The first offered food, but it was made of cold, steel wire.  The second offered no food, but it was made of soft cloth, made to resemble animal fur.  Which do you think the monkeys clung to?  That’s right; even though the soft cloth “surrogate” offered no food, no sustenance, the monkeys clung more tightly to its warmth than to the cold steel alternative.

And that’s what it’s like, for a lot of people.  Our lesser “gods”—sex, career, entertainment, you name it—offer us no substance or enduring value.  But they “seem” warmer, or offer more immediate security than a God that I can’t hear or see or touch.

But God is closer than we think, Isaiah tells us.  Isaiah’s prophecy offers us a rich, multi-textured portrait of God.  His righteousness collides violently with man’s wickedness, and in the aftermath we see the grace he extends to those who trust in His name.


It’s hard to summarize Isaiah’s entire message in a few paragraphs.  In Isaiah chapters 1-39, Isaiah’s prophecy centers on the judgment coming to Israel.  Then, in chapter 40, the tone of the entire book shifts.  Now, Isaiah describes God as the One who comforts Israel following her return from exile.  Keep in mind, all of this is yet future.  If God knows the events of the future, then surely he can speak through Isaiah to describe the events following the time of exile.

But this also tells us something timelessly significant about the character of God.  The character that Isaiah describes here is the same God who will one day offer comfort to all people in the formation of the New Heavens and New Earth—themes that we will explore as we see Isaiah’s prophecy unfold before our eyes.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.  3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”  6 A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.  7 The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass.  8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.  9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”  10 Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.  11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.  (Isaiah 40:1-11)

The promise of comfort announces that Israel’s “hard service” has been completed, and that “her sin has been paid for.”  Israel looked forward to a day when God would reign on earth as their earthly King.  They also looked forward to the day when God’s presence would be felt on earth in a more direct way than merely in the Temple.  What they never expected was that both these expectations would be fulfilled in the same person.  John the Baptist borrows language here to point to Jesus, the coming Messiah, who brings the presence of God up close and personal, and also points to Jesus’ coming role as King and Lord over His people.

It is a portrait that must be harmonized with the incredible display of God’s power, a theme that Isaiah elaborates on in the next section.


 12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?  13 Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel?  14 Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?  15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.  16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.  17 All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.  18 To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?  19 An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains.  20 He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move.  21 Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?  22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;  23 who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.  24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.  25 To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.  26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.  27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?  28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.  29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.  30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;  31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:12-31)

Stop and think.  Everything we believe about Jesus, we believe about God.  And I love that, because it means that when I read passages like this one from Isaiah, it gives me a deeper and wider understanding of just who Jesus was—and is—and ever shall be.

Too often we worship a god that best serves us.  But who wants a god that can fit in their jacket pocket?  This only deepens our commitment to self rather than call us away from it.  Where’s the comfort in that?  When trouble comes—and it will—what will you turn to?  The God of Isaiah’s text?  Or the god of our own imaginations?  Only one will truly offer us lasting strength, lasting peace, lasting power.

High Calling (Isaiah 6)

In the face of every child lies evidence that one of the earliest human faculties is a sense of wonder.  It’s a sense as basic to our design as hunger or thirst.   Ignore this design, this need for wonder—for beauty, for enthrallment—and your soul will wither like pile of dried leaves.

So often the world around us seems bled dry of both beauty and mystery.  In this world, Christianity must seem like a beautiful dream, but a dream nonetheless.  Surely we can’t possibly expect to see God’s face in a world like ours.

This was precisely what Isaiah felt.  The books of prophecy weren’t typically arranged in precise chronological order, so it seems likely that Isaiah really begins in the sixth chapter.  And it’s a chapter shadowed by death:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.

2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”  (Isaiah 6:1-3)

We know from the pages of history that King Uzziah had died in the year 740 B.C., his kingdom passing to Jotham.  He’d been a good king—he’d strengthened the military, and bolstered the economy (2 Chronicles 26:1-14).  Now that he was gone, could Israel stand against their surrounding adversaries?

So in the midst of darkness, Isaiah caught a glimpse of hope.  Usually human beings weren’t allowed to see God and live to tell about it—but it was equally true that in an act of sheer grace, God chose to reveal himself to key individuals.  Was this a vision?  A dream?  Maybe some kind of “out-of-body experience?”  Isaiah doesn’t tell us, but the setting is the Temple.  As you surely remember from previous posts, the Temple was where the ancient Israelites (all religions, really) believed God uniquely and specifically dwelled.  Normally, a curtain would separate man from the innermost dwelling place—the “holy of holies” as it was known.  But now, nothing stands between Isaiah and God.  In his lengthy commentary on Isaiah, John Oswalt calls this scene “the raw edge of terror,” because it takes place “where humanity dare not go.”

And here’s what’s so stunning.  Isaiah can barely describe the details.  The only detail he mentions of God is “the train of his robe.”  Imagine your friend meets a celebrity.  You ask, “What did he/she look like?”  If the only thing they remember is the cuffs of their pants, you’d either conclude that they (1) didn’t really pay attention or (2) they were so overwhelmed this was all they could remember.

For Isaiah, it seems to be the second case.  The throne is surrounded by a cloud of seraphim. These weren’t angels—at least, not exactly.  The Hebrew name literally means “burning ones.”  These spectacular, multi-winged creatures seemed to play a unique role in surrounding God’s throne and declaring his glory.  Qadosh!  Qadosh!  Qadosh! they sang out: “holy holy holy is the Lord.”  Holiness becomes Isaiah’s key theme.  To be Holy means to be set apart.  And no one is more set apart than God.

4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:4-8)

Have you ever met someone important, only to later learn you had a stain on your shirt, or your fly was down?  Something similar was going on here—only magnified a thousandfold.  To be in the presence of holiness would have indeed been terrifying.  Readers are meant to see this whole scene as filled with raw emotion—almost a sense of violence at the intensity of the moment.

Some take Isaiah’s concerns literally—that maybe he had a problem with strong language, or liked to tell “dirty jokes.”  Maybe.  Or maybe Isaiah was simply highlighting his own unworthiness to even speak in the presence of God.

The seraph purified Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal—a coal that could only have come from one of the altars in the temple.  The coal was associated with sacrifice.  Only through sacrifice can God make his people pure.

Isaiah was never exactly “called” by God.  He volunteered.  When he learned of God’s need—a need to address a nation’s desperate circumstances, he could only shout out “Here am I!  Send me!”

Most sermons stop there.  They shouldn’t.  Here is God’s mission briefing to Isaiah:

9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing,  but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
12 and the Lord removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13 And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.

Somehow I wonder if Isaiah would have been as eager had he read the instructions.  He wasn’t called to success; he was called to faithfulness.  And so are we.

As you survey the entire scene, are you beginning to see how the pieces come together to form a snapshot of the gospel?   Isaiah—an unclean man in unclean times—stands before the throne of the God of the universe.  What greater picture of unworthiness could there be?  The only thing louder than the praise of the seraphim was the thudding beat of Isaiah’s wicked heart.  Yet through sacrifice, God purifies his child, and gives him a new identity and new mission.

The whole scene parallels Paul’s summary of the gospel:

…you were dead in the trespasses and sins  2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–  3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–  6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

We live in a world where wonder is too often usurped by cynicism and fear.  There are no fairy tales, only ghost stories.  The gospel says that there is hope for those who place their trust in Jesus.  But the gospel also says that such hope comes with a high calling: a calling to faithfulness in a world full of faithlessness.  But through it all, we stand with a God who makes us pure, helps us stand, and shows us the Way.

All’s Well that Ends Well; and it Ends Well – Malachi 3 & 4

These final two chapters of Malachi are one combined third chapter in the Hebrew Scriptures. And I’m sure at least a few of you are like me and cannot read these verses EVER without Handel’s Messiah ringing through your ears – with the “But Who May Abide” aria followed by the thundering “He Shall Purify” chorus >> with soaring contrapunctal melodies working independently, yet arriving ultimately together in a thundering final four-part vertical harmony, “… that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness!” … Fabulous!

an offering in righteousness

OK … sorry … going back to the text, here is an anticipation of a day when the Lord returns and there is a purification of the priests – the sons of Levi…

3:1  “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

Breaking Covenant by Withholding Tithes

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

The people of Israel were to bring a tithe (10%) for the sustenance of the priestly tribe of Levi. This would provide for the ongoing priority of worship in the nation through the temple service, but the people did not faithfully honor this, which demonstrated their lack of value for God’s decree. God’s mercy is still seen here as open to blessing them if they would honor Him – a theme I think we’ve mentioned a few times in this series, as well as throughout the “Revive” series from a year ago.

Israel Speaks Arrogantly Against God

13 “You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.

“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’

14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’”

The difficult question of why those who are evil sometimes seem to prosper beyond those who are righteous is also an issue that transcends generations and millennia. Of course, the answer is that their prosperity is of short duration; it is a fraction of the reality of eternity and judgment. But moaning to God about this demonstrates an attitude of not believing God’s promises.

As always, there is a faithful remnant of people who will be blessed in the end for their endurance …

The Faithful Remnant

16 Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.

17 “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. 18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.

Judgment and Covenant Renewal

4:1  “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.

“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

The prophet Elijah is identified in Matthew as being John the Baptist. Yet in Revelation 11 there is at the end of the Tribulation the two witnesses who turn many from Israel into repentant faith before the Christ’s second coming. And so again, this is one of those prophetic passages with near and far applications.

This is my (Randy) final time with you in this series, as Chris will finish off next week’s devotionals. I knew going into this series that it would be a challenge to not just say the same thing over and over and over – some version of “Though the times may be difficult and many are not walking in faith, trust the God who is the righteous judge at the end, and by trusting Him and living in covenant faithfulness, you will be blessed in spite of the prevailing darkness around you.”  I hope we’ve said more than that, but that overarching truth is timeless, especially for this generation in which we live. And may you live in this attitude …

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.  (Phil. 2:14-16)

The Totally Lost Culture and Generation – Malachi 2

Sometimes we look around our country and culture, and those of us old enough to remember a number of generations are sometimes shocked with what we see. The drift away from traditional and biblical values is oft startling. There is a tendency to believe the world is the worst it has ever been. The trends are not positive, that is for sure. Yet people who are genuinely and deeply committed to God and truth are not rare, even if they are fewer in number and percentage of the population than in the past.

But at the time of Malachi, the degradation of the entire culture and nation was rather complete. And today’s passage speaks of statements of condemnation to both the priests who were the spiritual leaders, and also to the masses of the people.

Additional Warning to the Priests (continued from chapter 1)

2:1  “And now, you priests, this warning is for you. If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honor my name,” says the Lord Almighty, “I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honor me.

“Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it. And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the Lord Almighty. “My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.

“For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi,” says the Lord Almighty. “So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.”

The priests were corrupt. Malachi’s message speaks of Levi – the son of Jacob who became the tribal family of priests in Israel. God was in a covenant relationship with the priests to bless and prosper their ministry as they would honor Him in their duties. But the Old Testament record is shockingly full of corruption in the priests of Israel, and so God says they would be rejected and carried away like the worthless parts of the sacrifices.

Breaking the Covenant through Wrongful Marriages

10 Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?

11 Judah has been unfaithful. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves by marrying women who worship a foreign god. 12 As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the Lord remove him from the tents of Jacob—even though he brings an offering to the Lord Almighty.

A way that the people had disobeyed God was to intermarry with those outside the nation – hence bringing in a passion for foreign gods and divergent, often extraordinarily evil, systems of worship and belief. Syncretism of belief – such as we have in our culture and even in churches today that deny objective truth – is nothing new.

Breaking the Covenant through Divorce

13 Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

15 Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.

16 “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,”says the Lord Almighty.

So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.

Divorce was common in this era, and not seen as any big deal apparently. The application of this is not simply on the matter of the breaking of a covenant relationship between two people, but of how the nation had likewise broken their covenant with God … divorcing themselves from honoring Him. The family committed to a covenant relationship with one another would produce offspring who would likewise carry on that value. Israel had married outside the nation, they were quick to divorce, and all of this testified to their larger problem of not honoring the covenant they had made with God.

Breaking the Covenant through Injustice

17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. “How have we wearied him?” you ask.

By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”

I understand that the secular world today grows weary of Christians who repeat the timeless truth that God honors those who honor Him – that any nation that walks away from God is destined to eventual failure. It is not popular to believe in a one-way system of right and wrong – a fixed belief that sees man as subservient to a creator God. It seems so much more freeing to believe that man is totally independent to seek his own happiness in his own way.

This independence and denial of God and truth has never worked, nor will it in an advanced scientific age. And those few who still trusted in God in Malachi’s day were not wrong simply because they were a despised minority. And likewise those who honor the Lord – no matter how unpopular it becomes even in the USA – will not be wrong for standing for Him even in a dark era.

Trusting God – So Easy, But So Hard – Malachi 1

1:1  A prophecy: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.

So here we are beginning the final book of the Old Testament in our “Uncharted” series. The name “Malachi” means “my messenger,” and he was indeed God’s messenger to Israel. He gave them the same basic message as all of the other Old Testament prophets: Covenant blessing requires covenant faithfulness … or in other words, if you want God to keep His end of His covenant promises, you’d better keep your side of the agreement. That’s easy, right? Actually, as sinners, that is difficult.

This writing is now somewhere about 65-85 years after the time of Haggai and Zechariah – or about 450-430 BC. The Temple (of Zerubbabel) had been rebuilt with a brief time of revival following it; but now after a period of decline, life was hard, harvests were poor, the Persians dominated, the hearts of the people were cold, the priests were corrupt, and skepticism was rampant.

Israel Doubts God’s Love

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.”

But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!’

The love/hate comparison here should be understood as a chosen/not chosen contrast. Though Esau was the older brother, it was Jacob/Israel that God had chosen to be His blessed people. And even as Esau gave up his birthright willingly for the immediate satisfaction of a bowl of stew, so his descendents demonstrated a total lack of heart for God. Esau’s descendents were the Edomites – the people we began talking about in this series through the prophecy of Obediah – a nation judged by God with destruction at the hands of the Babylonians.

Israel also was conquered by the Babylonians. But unlike Edom, God preserved a remnant to bring them back to their land as an expression of His covenant love; and now here they are again in a position of not honoring God.

The tone of this prophecy is one of disputation, as in a courtroom scene. God proves His faithfulness, and proves also how Israel has not honored the terms of the covenant made together.

Breaking Covenant Through Blemished Sacrifices

“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty.

“It is you priests who show contempt for my name.

“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

“By offering defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.

“Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”—says the Lord Almighty.

10 “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. 11 My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty.

12 “But you profane it by saying, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled,’ and, ‘Its food is contemptible.’ 13 And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the Lord Almighty.

“When you bring injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the Lord. 14 “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.”

The message is directed to the priests, who were guilty for knowing proper sacrificial regulations, yet not enforcing them with the people. The spiritual hearts of them all were on display when they brought sick and otherwise blemished animals for sacrifice. They disregarded the law’s regulations to bring the best, but rather held onto the best males in the flocks and herds.

Why would they do this? Well, in agriculture, a full one-half of a herd of flock can be seen in that one, young, best, prized ram or bull – possessing genetics that will be passed down for generations. Why risk your visible future, your entire measurement of wealth, by sacrificing that one best animal? Why not take the cheap route and send to the altar a sick or crippled beast that is not going to live long anyhow?

So, you see what God is really doing in asking for the best? He is asking for the worshipper to place his future prosperity and sustenance into God’s hands. That is difficult to do. But, is it not more true that obeying God will secure the future? That should be easy to do to obey God … right?

Let’s put it into modern terms. You have a mortgage and other bills, and you have an income that struggles to meet those bills in a one-to-one fashion, most times. And then you read that God would like you to be generous in giving toward Him. It even sounds like maybe something in the area of 10 or 20 percent of income would be appropriate. But how can you do that? How does the math work that 90% next month will cover what 100% this month barely accomplished? So, you throw a few bucks at God and hope He is not angry, right?

Hey, I can’t explain how 90% with God is more than 100% without Him … all I can say is that I’ve never seen anyone who is rich toward God find total failure, poverty, and foreclosure and debt counseling to be any part of their lives. It is really so simple … or is it so hard?

The Mark of Genuine Repentance – Zechariah 12

Without doubt, this “Uncharted” series has taken us through some very deep waters of Scripture – of passages inter-related with complications of needing to know a lot of Old Testament history, as well as variant views on the subject called “eschatology” = the doctrine of last times biblical interpretations. And Zechariah is particularly difficult to understand and describe briefly.

Not all conservative Bible scholars take the same literal approach as Chris and I have written about in these devotionals – wherein we talk about a literal future of a seven-year Tribulation followed by a literal 1,000-year Millennial Kingdom which is the fulfillment of promises God made to the nation of Israel. Some believe these sorts of prophecies are to rather be understood in more broad and general terms of God’s dealings with His people over the generations (be they Israel or the church, or whomever).

But I believe this passage we read today is one that looks forward to a future period of time at the end of the Tribulation, where Israel/Jerusalem is attacked by an array of forces, and in a campaign of battles called “Armageddon” Christ victoriously returns and conquers all.

Chapters 12-14 of Zechariah are one prophecy about Israel in the end times.

Jerusalem’s Enemies to Be Destroyed

12:1 — A prophecy: The word of the Lord concerning Israel.

The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person, declares: “I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves. On that day I will strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness,” declares the Lord. “I will keep a watchful eye over Judah, but I will blind all the horses of the nations. Then the clans of Judah will say in their hearts, ‘The people of Jerusalem are strong, because the Lord Almighty is their God.’

“On that day I will make the clans of Judah like a firepot in a woodpile, like a flaming torch among sheaves. They will consume all the surrounding peoples right and left, but Jerusalem will remain intact in her place.

“The Lord will save the dwellings of Judah first, so that the honor of the house of David and of Jerusalem’s inhabitants may not be greater than that of Judah. On that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord going before them. On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem.

The remaining verses speak of a national day of repentance and salvation for the nation of Israel, as they come to a true understanding of the Messiah Christ.

Mourning for the One They Pierced

10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. 11 On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be as great as the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo.12 The land will mourn, each clan by itself, with their wives by themselves: the clan of the house of David and their wives, the clan of the house of Nathan and their wives, 13 the clan of the house of Levi and their wives, the clan of Shimei and their wives, 14 and all the rest of the clans and their wives.

The reference in the verses above about “Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo” relates to the historical event of the death of the good King Josiah. There was great mourning at that time, as well as at other times commemorating this event. It was a part of Israel’s history, where, if you wanted to pick out something about which there was a palpable national sadness, it was this event – described in this short passage from 2 Chronicles…

2 Chronicles 35:20 – After all this, when Josiah had set the temple in order, Necho king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah marched out to meet him in battle. 21 But Necho sent messengers to him, saying, “What quarrel is there, king of Judah, between you and me? It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at war. God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.”

22 Josiah, however, would not turn away from him, but disguised himself to engage him in battle. He would not listen to what Necho had said at God’s command but went to fight him on the plain of Megiddo.

23 Archers shot King Josiah, and he told his officers, “Take me away; I am badly wounded.” 24 So they took him out of his chariot, put him in his other chariot and brought him to Jerusalem, where he died. He was buried in the tombs of his ancestors, and all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for him.

25 Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah, and to this day all the male and female singers commemorate Josiah in the laments. These became a tradition in Israel and are written in the Laments.

This was no mere show of sadness – in Josiah’s day, or as it illustrates how Israel will be when Christ returns. It was not like paid mourners that were a part of Jewish funerals. It was a deep and genuine sadness of repentance.

How far does sadness go relative to repentance?  I had a college professor who was known and lampooned often for a collection of statements he would often make. One of them was this … “Nobody was ever saved by feeling sorry for their sins!”  Well, that is true. Judas was sorry, for example. The issue is not the emotion, but rather the trust of the sinner in a substitutionary sacrificial payment for sin. We are saved because we believe that Christ took our place, not because we are so deeply grieved about what awful sinners we have been. Yet at the same time, genuine sadness should accompany true repentance, and that is what is seen throughout the whole of the nation of Israel at this future time.

A Donkey or a Horse? – Zechariah 9:1-9

In my earlier years in Maryland, we had a horse and a donkey at our home named “Dusty” and “Radar.”  I viewed them as combination lawn mowers and fertilizers all in one package, and so there was never much riding on them. They viewed their role to likewise be eating – none of this carrying people around stuff was part of their personal job descriptions.

But several thousand years ago, it presented a big difference for a king riding into a city in terms of how he came – in war, or in peace.

Judgment on Israel’s Enemies – The first eight verses in today’s chapter speak of God’s judgment on surrounding people groups – all of whom were hostile to Israel at one time or another. The sort of thing we see in the daily news about upsets in this area of the world has a very, very long history. These verses look forward nearly 100 years to the conquests of Alexander the Great in this area.

Tyre – a coastal city – was particularly a stronghold. This city held out for five years against the Assyrians and 13 years against the Babylonians. Verses 5-7 speak of the primary cities of the Philistines – roughly the modern Gaza Strip.

9:1  A prophecy: The word of the Lord is against the land of Hadrak and will come to rest on Damascus—for the eyes of all people and all the tribes of Israel are on the Lord—and on Hamath too, which borders on it, and on Tyre and Sidon, though they are very skillful.

Tyre has built herself a stronghold; she has heaped up silver like dust, and gold like the dirt of the streets. But the Lord will take away her possessions and destroy her power on the sea, and she will be consumed by fire.

Ashkelon will see it and fear; Gaza will writhe in agony, and Ekron too, for her hope will wither. Gaza will lose her king and Ashkelon will be deserted. A mongrel people will occupy Ashdod, and I will put an end to the pride of the Philistines. I will take the blood from their mouths, the forbidden food from between their teeth. Those who are left will belong to our God and become a clan in Judah, and Ekron will be like the Jebusites.

But I will encamp at my temple to guard it against marauding forces. Never again will an oppressor overrun my people, for now I am keeping watch.

Jerusalem was passed by in the conquests of Alexander – a divine protection. And though others would bring destruction – like the Romans under Titus – the final phrase of verse 8 looks forward to the Millennial Kingdom.

The Coming of Zion’s King

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!  See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This is one of those passages where, when compared to the New Testament, the specificity of it is so very impressive – how can one not be impressed with the inerrant Word of God?

In the ancient Near East, when a king rode into town on a horse, he was coming as a conquering warrior, but if on a donkey, it was in peace.

Here is the passage with the fulfillment of this prophecy in the person of Christ on the day we call Palm Sunday …

Matthew – 21:1  As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

5 “Say to Daughter Zion,‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The entrance of Christ into Jerusalem on this day, and in this manner, is one of the highlight moments of Scripture. You may recall in Daniel where it talked about the 69 weeks of years from the time of the decree from the Persians to rebuild the temple to the presentation of the king would be 483 total years. This day was the official presentation of Jesus to the nation of Israel as their king, and though lauded by the people as such, within days he would be officially rejected. And with the rejection of the King, the Kingdom was also rejected – though not denied, but rather postponed. It will yet occur – literally upon the earth for 1,000 years – in keeping with God’s promise to His people Israel.

And at the end of the preceding seven-year Tribulation period, Christ returns to earth in the final judgment of the Antichrist and the assembled armies of mankind. This final battle of Armageddon marks the end of this horrible time, and the establishment of his kingdom of peace. See here how Jesus returns, not on a donkey, but on a horse…

Revelation 19:11 –  I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.